Sunday, November 28, 2010

White Ibises

Four adult and six juvenile white ibises on the Lower Suwannee NWR
We spotted this group of white ibises (Eudocimus albus) feeding in a shallow freshwater wetland on the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. This group is unusual in our experience because the darker-plumed juveniles outnumber the adults. White ibises are relatively long-lived, and in the groups we usually see adults are more abundant than juveniles.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another New Small Tree

Gum Bumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum)

Closeup of leaves & twigs (click to magnify)
Here is another small tree from the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. This one is also from Shell Mound, not far from the mystery tree that turned out to be Soapberry (see my post from October 19). After tracking it down I think the new one is Gum Bumelia (aka Gum Bully). 

Like its neighbor Soapberry, Gum Bumelia does not seem to have been put to many uses by humans. However, it is tolerant of severe sites (like Shell Mound) and nurseries are said to have propagated it for use in revegetating denuded landscapes.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More Wetland Plants

Here is a saltwater false willow aka narrow-leaved groundsel bush (Baccharis angustifolia) growing on the edge of the marsh. What appear to be blossoms are white hairs on the nutlets.

This southern redcedar (Juniperus silicicola) is uncommonly loaded with berries, where else but on Cedar Key? It grows close to the salt marsh, but appears not to tolerate inundation.

More berries, these on yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), another shrub that thrives on the margins of salt marshes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Brazilian Pepper

Brazilian pepper with
and without drupes ("berries")
Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) is an invasive exotic plant. A native of South America introduced as a landscape plant, it has become a widespread pest on the southern Florida peninsula. It is common on Cedar Key and although we haven't seen it on either, we strongly suspect it has become established on the Cedar Keys and Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuges. Visitors to the refuges should be on the lookout for it and report its presence to refuge staff.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You Can Leave, But You Can't Get Away

Postcard View of the Star Lake Inn in its Heyday
It is obvious from our books that we haven't gotten away from the Adirondacks. And just last week we were reminded again that we probably couldn't get away, even if we wanted to. 

 We were giving a presentation based on The Summer of a Thousand Cheeses at The Village community in Gainesville, Florida. As a way of introducing ourselves to the 40 or so in attendance, we showed the covers of our earlier books in one of our slides. It was a lively group, and we fielded many questions.

As people were filing out a man came up. He had noticed Star Lake in the title of one of the books, and wondered what the connection was. Hearing that I grew up there, he asked if the Star Lake Inn was still in existence. He explained that in the summer of 1943 as a 16-year old he worked as a bellhop in the Inn, then a large and popular resort hotel. The Inn has been gone for four decades, but old connections never seem to disappear completely. The huge and expanding world became  a bit smaller when we discovered that two of us, at least, have a mutual acquaintance.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cheese, Junk Food, and Health

An article in the November 6, 2010 edition of The New York Times purporting to be about cheese describes an apparent conflict within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While one part of USDA is encouraging Americans to choose healthier diets, another is working with industry to promote increased consumption of dairy products, particularly cheese. The implication is that eating cheese is inherently unhealthy. Of course this is wrong and therefore unfortunate, because the real messages of the article are important and worth knowing.

1) In a roundabout attempt to improve the plight of dairy farmers, the Federal Government is subsidizing big businesses like Domino's and other corporate fast food producers. This kind of government spending generates few complaints from politicians, even self-proclaimed deficit hawks.

2) By encouraging the inclusion of more cheese in processed foods, the USDA is abetting a trend that many people blame for homogenizing and degrading our cuisine. The industrialization of mainstream American cheese has led to plentiful, but mostly unremarkable products best used in processed foods. High in cheap calories and fat, the products (mostly pizzas) described in the article are a far cry from the real foods, including distinctive cheeses, that Americans increasingly demand. 

As we pointed out in The Summer of a Thousand Cheeses, good artisanal cheeses are eminently healthful when consumed as part of a sensible diet.

This New York Times article is not about cheese; it is about junk food. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Newton Falls Challenged Again

After the optimistic and hopeful posts provided last week, I was shocked and concerned to see the news conveyed by this article in the Watertown Daily Times. Let's hope markets will improve, the niche market for Newton Falls Fine Paper products will improve, and the fine efforts of so many good people will bear abundant fruit.

Crunch Time for Adirondack Nonprofits?

An article "Gibson Starts New Group" in the September/October 2010 edition of Adirondack Explorer tells of the formation of Adirondack Wild, a new conservation organization founded by former employees of another conservation organization. The organization they left, Protect the Adirondacks, was formed in 2008 by the merger of two other organizations. Adirondack Wild was apparently too new to have launched a public membership and fundraising campaign, but Protect the Adirondacks had a full-page advertisement in that issue of the Explorer, as did the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the Adirondack Council. The Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy was apparently more frugal, having only a half-page advertisement. The Adirondack Explorer itself is a non-profit focused on Adirondack issues, and it also carried a full-page appeal for contributions.

With five Adirondack advocacy organizations with broadly overlapping missions appealing for support and a sixth likely soon to join them, we wonder whether the landscape is so crowded and the influence of individual organizations so diluted that few if any can be effective.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Red Mangroves

Cedar Key Red Mangrove in 2008
In his Field Guide to Coastal Wetland Plants of the Southeastern United States, Ralph Tiner identified Cedar Key as the northern distribution limit of the largely tropical red mangrove tree (Rhizophora mangle). We noticed one near Cedar Key's newly built Cemetery Point boardwalk in 2008. It is easily distinguished from the black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) by the red mangrove's distinctive stilt roots (click on the photo above to get a better look). The red mangrove also tends to grow in more regularly flooded sites. The single one we noticed was severely damaged by frost over the winter of 2008-2009, but had begun to recover by late 2009. The winter of 2009-2010 with its severe freezes was fatal, however. The hardier black mangroves that are abundant landward of this site suffered damage to the leaves from the freezes, but no mortality.

Damaged Red Mangrove in 2009
We wonder whether any red mangroves survive in the lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys area and will be actively looking for them. Perhaps the northern limit of their distribution has shifted southward on the Gulf Coast.

Red Mangrove Skeleton in 2010
We returned today (November 21, 2010) and took this photo of the skeleton of the red mangrove. The lighting was poor, but the characteristic prop roots show relatively well.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


We believe this little succulent plant, found not far from our home near the edge of a mixed marsh-black mangrove stand on the Cedar Keys, to be saltwort. Like glasswort, it is adapted for an environment in which fresh water is a rare, but essential commodity. There are two wetland plants called "saltwort," but this one (Batis maritima) is easily distinguished from the other (Salsola kali), which is a prickly plant frequently referred to as Russian thistle. 
(See my comment below).

The observation platform is frequently awash
Our recent visit coincided with a new moon and very low tide, making it appear that getting our feet only a bit wet we could walk from Cemetery Point on Way Key all the way to Haven Island, or from Sandspit Point all the way to Atsena Otie.

Another Great New Florida Cheese

Our friends at Cypress Point Creamery have added Loblolly, a tomme-style cheese to their offerings. We feel fortunate to be among the first customers to sample the new cheese. We enjoy their gouda- and havarti-style cheeses, but this one might just become our favorite.

Made from the raw milk of their resident herd of purebred Jersey cows and aged in their modern facility, the new tomme is full of character. If you serve it to friends, try to cut it so that each portion includes a bit of the tasty rind.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Born in a Cheese Factory and Aging Well

Russ and I recently received a note from a friend who is 93 years old and lives in Carthage NY near the Adirondacks. She likes the weather...even though it is in the 40s today and will probably snow, again, this week.

Her note included an article from the Watertown Daily Times about Cartha E. Heath Gaebel who just turned 100 years old. Is Carthage NY a Blue Zone?

What is the connection, you ask, to cheese? It seems that Mrs. Gaebel's parents operated the Sandy Creek Valley cheese factory. That's where Mrs. Gaebel was born. Like other cheese factory products..she aged very well indeed.

From an article by Rachel Maines published by The History Cooperative, I learned that Cartha's brothers Orrin and Malcolm Heath accompanied Elsie the Cow, an exceptionally handsome and famous purebred Jersey owned by the Borden Dairy, to her interviews and photo opportunities at the New York World's Fair in 1939. Cartha would have been 29 then. I wonder if she went too?

Newton Falls Revisited

Newton  Falls in 2003
Readers of Gem of the Adirondacks learned of the bleak fortunes of the little Adirondack community of Newton Falls. The hamlet was built around a paper mill, and the mill brought prosperity for nearly 100 years. But beginning in the eighties the mill went through a series of wrenching shutdowns, layoffs, and changes in ownership. Ultimately the mill, which once had employed 500, was shuttered. When my book went to press in 2005, the mill had been closed for five years, there was little hope it would ever reopen, the local economy was in shambles, and Newton Falls was beginning to look like a ghost town.
The story has taken a happier turn however, and it is one I could not have imagined following the former decline. In 2007 the mill reopened under visionary leadership, 100 jobs returned to the community, and the operation has since become a model for economically and environmentally sustainable paper making. This time the story is not mine to tell, and I encourage you to visit the Newton Falls Fine Paper website to read it in the words of the people who made this remarkable rebirth possible.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On the Road Again

After a two-month hiatus, we will be taking our cheese project back on the road with a series of presentations in the Gainesville area. At 3:00 PM on Friday, November 12 we are presenting at The Village, Gainesville’s most popular retirement community. Then on 1:30 PM on Tuesday, December 7 we will present at Oak Hammock, an upscale retirement community associated with the University of Florida. On Thursday, January 13 at 2:00 PM our audience will be Prime Time, an informal adult education program. We have also put in a proposal to offer a four-part course on the New American Cheese for the Santa Fe College community education program during the winter term.

Presenting at the Adirondack Museum in August
Each presentation is different, in keeping with the interests of the groups, and because people sometimes attend more than one of them. Developing unique talks is a challenging part of the fun of presenting. It gives us a chance to share more from the interviews we did and show more photos of cheese makers, creameries, the animals that give us the great milk for great cheese, and the amazing farms where they live. We can share more about our agonies and ecstasies while making cheese at home and more about cheeses, creameries, and stories we have discovered since The Summer of a Thousand Cheeses went to press last May. 

The timing of the first two presentations may help to promote holiday sales of all our books, but we enjoy interacting with the people and we would be wanting to do this even if we didn't think everyone will want to give one of our books to those hard-to-buy-for people on the gift lists.
We had great publicity for our August presentations

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Transmedia Paddling Guide?

Mark and I met a few days ago to talk about the series of 14 paddling guides he envisions for the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges. My role is helping to include natural history in the guides, pointing out features paddlers will be seeing as they travel along routes and providing informative stories about them. By the end of our meeting I had a set of excellent maps to work with and a better sense of how I should be proceeding.

Inspired by some other activities, I was led to speculate on how the paddling guides could not only be issued in multiple media formats, but possibly also how they might ultimately become interactive. Here’s how it might work:

The paddling guides, including maps, text, and photos are printed as laminated brochures.

Later the 14 guides could be bound together in book form, with expanded natural history information and more photos.

Or suppose the guides and the guidebook (as an e-book) were available for download. Users could print needed sections at home, or download the entire book onto a smart phone or i-Pad to be brought along on paddling ventures.

So far these materials would qualify as “multimedia,” but what about transmedia?

Suppose users could contribute observations and stories? Information posted on a live blog would report real-time observations. If connectivity were good, observations could be downloaded
or uploaded onto the blog in the field. For example a post might be, “The pair of bald eagles observed last week near waypoint SAN03 are on the nest and appear to have begun incubation.” Posts might be practical: “A fallen tree makes it impossible to ascend the Gopher River beyond waypoint 07.”

Ultimately the guidebook could be a living one, with updates as events are recorded. For example a section appended to one route might include a 10-year record of bald eagle activity at a particular nesting site.

This is already a fun project, even more fun when it offers a vision of the future.